Victorian era

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In British history , the long period of Queen Victoria's reign from 1837 to 1901 is usually referred to as the Victorian Age (also Victorian Era , Victorian Era ) . Some historians have tried to define a different time period with certain characteristics of "Victorianism", but the proposals differ widely. Britain's economy flourished during the Victorian Age. That was mainly because the industrial revolutionnow also showed its consequences in mining and mechanical engineering and Great Britain secured a technological lead for a long time. The expansion of the railway network in particular had far-reaching effects.

Contrary to what the term "Victorian Age" suggests, Victoria had little political influence (unlike Elizabeth I in the Elizabethan era ). The domestic politics of the Victorian age could avoid revolutionary upheavals as in other European states. Through changes in the electoral law and the administrative structure, a broader mass of political influence gained. In other areas, particularly health and education, reforms made slow progress. From 1845 to 1848 Ireland suffered from the Great Famine due to the potato rot and the resulting poor harvests . In the 1870s the "era of imperialism " began, in which Great Britain was in strong competition with other colonial powers (above all with France , later with the German Empire ).

Queen Victoria on the occasion of her 50th throne anniversary

Domestic politics

Royal house

Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter , 1842)

In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland , the royal dynasty of the House of Hanover ruled from the first half of the 18th century . At the time of Wilhelm IV's death in 1837, in contrast to Great Britain and Ireland, only male succession was in force in Hanover , which is why the personal union between the two kingdoms was dissolved and 18-year-old Viktoria Wilhelm now succeeded the British throne. In 1840 she married Albert von Sachsen-Coburg and Gotha , who promoted the liberal reform movement, but died in 1861. Viktoria then withdrew temporarily from the public, but became more active again from 1870. In contrast to her predecessors, Victoria became a popular, respected symbolic figure of the era and embodied the splendor of the British Empire , especially since from 1877 she carried the title " Empress of India ".

The crown retained its influence over the government for a long time, but was only able to keep a ministry in office against the majority of the lower house if the outcome of the election was unclear . The last time this happened in 1839, when Robert Peel , who was in charge of forming a government, fell out of favor with the Queen and her mentor, Viscount Melbourne , held the office for a short time. The foreign ministers of the first half of the century also acted more arbitrarily than before, often against the interests of the crown, which was powerless against the parliamentary support of the minister. However, Victoria, also through the influence of her husband, increasingly eluded Melbourne's dominance.


The opponents in the British two-party system of the 19th century were the Tories and the Whigs , who took turns in government. Since about 1860 the Tories were called " Conservatives " while the Whigs took up radicals and became " Liberals ". The Liberals were dominated by non-conformist artisans and merchants from the provinces, whereas Anglicans and landowners predominated among the Conservatives . A workers' party was not added until the end of the century.

The period from 1846 to 1867 was marked by political instability with minority governments and unpredictable votes, as the members of parliament were hardly influenced by the party leadership in their voting behavior, and on the other hand the influence of the crown on parliament had already declined significantly. At that time , a splinter party of the conservatives formed with the Peelites . Later the party whips ensured that MPs conformed to the party leadership. A new version of the parliamentary rules of procedure in 1882 further restricted the freedom of decision of the members of parliament.

As a result of the electoral law reforms, the parties modernized and sought support from the general public. Since the late 1860s they set up an organized network of regional party offices; charismatic party leaders drew attention. When Gladstone abolished stamp duty in 1861 and newspapers became affordable for everyone, they too had a major impact on public opinion.

Prime Minister 1837–1901

Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3. Marquess of Salisbury Archibald Philip Primrose, 5. Earl of Rosebery William Ewart Gladstone Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3. Marquess of Salisbury William Ewart Gladstone Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3. Marquess of Salisbury William Ewart Gladstone Benjamin Disraeli William Ewart Gladstone Benjamin Disraeli Edward Smith-Stanley, 14. Earl of Derby John Russell, 1. Earl Russell Henry John Temple, 3. Viscount Palmerston Edward Smith-Stanley, 14. Earl of Derby Henry John Temple, 3. Viscount Palmerston George Hamilton-Gordon, 4. Earl of Aberdeen Edward Smith-Stanley, 14. Earl of Derby John Russell, 1. Earl Russell Robert Peel William Lamb, 2. Viscount Melbourne


In Great Britain, several reforms prevented a revolution like the one taking place in some continental European countries at the time. Leading politicians often did not reject democratic aspirations in principle, but tried to steer them into the existing political institutions. In the course of two electoral law reforms during Victoria's rule and the resulting increase in the number of eligible voters, the representative body, the lower house of parliament, gained legitimacy. The House of Lords was still able to overturn far-reaching legislative proposals, although it had already lost some of its importance.

The electoral reform of 1832 had already given a large part of the middle class, but not the workers, the right to vote - altogether only one-thirtieth of the population. In contrast to later reforms, it was accompanied by great public pressure and was probably passed out of fear of an overthrow. Bribery and violence continued to be common election practices, but the influence of the Crown and House of Lords on the composition of the House of Commons was curtailed. Despite all the reforms, parliament remained dominated by the class of landowners across the parties, which was shown, among other things, in the disputes over grain tariffs.

The majority of the Liberals advocated an extension of the franchise and in 1866 proposed a law under Prime Minister Russell , but this failed in the House of Commons due to the Tories and the conservative wing of the Liberals. At the request of Disraeli , the now elected Conservatives under the Earl of Derby introduced a considerably more far-reaching bill than that of the Liberals. This law of 1867 nearly doubled the number of people entitled to vote, but maintained the separation between the two types of administrative units, counties and boroughs . While in the counties there was a choice to own or lease land with a minimum yield, in the boroughs house heads and certain tenants were allowed to vote. This excluded workers who had to move frequently. The constituencies were also reallocated, the weighting being based on the respective population figures. In fact, the upgrading of rural districts increased the imbalance between counties and boroughs. As a result of this reform, around 36 percent of adult men were eligible to vote, including most of the skilled workers.

With the reform of 1867, the power of the respective government increased. Not only radicals but also conservatives now advocated greater political participation by workers. Secret elections were introduced in 1872, making voters independent of pressure from their landlords or employers. The electoral reform of 1884 gave most permanent residents the right to vote. Again the constituencies were changed; this time the differences between counties and boroughs disappeared. MPs with agricultural concerns fell into the minority in favor of the now much more influential industrial areas. This meant that around 60 percent of adult men were eligible to vote. The reform brought with it further laws that weakened the influence of the nobility in the municipal structures.

Administration and justice

The town code of 1835 abolished the old administrative structure, which was marked by nepotism , and declared the town council to be the main authority in local government. The taxpayers elected two thirds of the city councils; a third - so-called Aldermen - were elected by the city council itself. Over time, the new organs took on various tasks of local administration, but lost their judicial power, since it was supposed to be independent of party efforts. In 1873 the highest courts of justice were united. In 1888, new regional administrative units , whose council was determined by universal and equal election, replaced the old counties on the basis of a law . The restriction of the arbitration office to jurisdiction concluded the separation of the judiciary and administration. The administrative law of 1894 finally guaranteed smaller villages a community assembly and larger ones a community council .

A first step towards the establishment of a professional civil service was the reintroduction of the income tax in 1842, which extended the inspectorate, which controlled business income and employment relationships, to the collection of taxes. The enforcement of these and other regulations at the municipal level required professionally trained special representatives, who were appointed by a commission from 1855 onwards. From 1870 onwards, candidates were recruited through free competition and exams, which finally gave the bureaucracy its independence.


Cartoon from the 1852 satirical magazine Punch depicting a slum street scene. A heap of rubbish can be seen on the left.

The unhealthy and unsanitary living conditions in British cities worsened in the first half of the century. Some main streets were cleaned, but not the side streets of the dark, increasingly densely populated slums. With no sanitation and, if at all, only access to dirty water contaminated with pathogens, dangerous infectious diseases were ubiquitous.

Edwin Chadwick had been campaigning for a central health ministry since 1820, but authorities, landowners and water supply companies resisted measures because they would have meant an encroachment on private property and thus an attack on the traditional English love of freedom. It would also deprive workers of the opportunity to free themselves from their situation. Under Chadwick's efforts and in the face of a cholera epidemic that claimed over 72,000 deaths in England and Wales, a committee was set up in 1848 to force all municipal authorities, except in London, to intervene above a certain mortality . Waterworks opened up fresher water sources; water flushes and sewers were set up.

Despite continued opposition, urban health care made progress, which was reflected in a sharp drop in mortality. However, medical knowledge remained quite limited. The germ theory was slow to gain acceptance , and vaccinations, if carried out properly, were long confined to smallpox. Important developments were the spread of anesthesia in operations since the 1840s and the first use of disinfection by Joseph Lister in the 1860s.


As early as the 1830s, the liberals had been calling for education for the lower class, which traditionally had long been viewed as a matter for the church. Reforms came only after Gladstone's Anglican Church , which had long resisted state educational aspirations, lost some of its privileges. Not least in view of the more efficient, more scientifically and technically oriented education system of the economic competitor Germany , an education law was passed in 1870. In addition to the existing schools, a state school system regulated at the local level was built up and school fees were waived for poor families. Thanks to elementary education, which became free for everyone in 1891, the number of illiterate people, who by 1840 still made up the majority of the population, quickly dwindled.

The public schools (higher private schools) gradually took on their typical form today. While they had previously limited themselves to Latin and Greek lessons, had generously used corporal punishment and hardly looked after students, they promoted physical education and the ideal of the gentleman (“ stiff upper lip ”) from around 1860–80 . Even grammar schools were given greater inflow.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the university system was also greatly expanded, from which industrial regions in particular benefited. The university career was opened in 1871 to all qualified citizens, regardless of social class or religion. In London in particular, there was also an increase in adult education. A number of educational institutions and museums have been established in South Kensington , including the Imperial College , the Royal Colleges of Art and Music , the Physical Society , the Royal Geographical Society, and the Victoria and Albert Museum .

Police and criminal law

In 1837 about half of the English boroughs had paid police; the town code of 1835 made it compulsory. In 1839, counties police were also allowed. Adoption was gradual in the counties and varied considerably from region to region; it did not become binding until 1856.

The deportation of prisoners to Australia was completely abolished in 1867, but had already decreased before that. As a result, the state took over the administration of five prisons. The sentences remained severe for a long time; imprisonment for unpaid monetary debt, for example, was not lifted until 1869. Nevertheless, the criminal law has been continuously reformed. After 1838, hangings were only carried out for murder and attempted murder, although public executions were still widespread until 1868.


Ireland was annexed to the kingdom on January 1, 1801 . Over time, a powerful national movement developed that demanded complete independence. Peel took tough action against Ireland's most popular politician Daniel O'Connell (1775–1847) and his movement and planned independently of it to calm the situation through social policy measures and agricultural reforms . This failed because of the great famine from 1845 to 1849, a deep turning point in Irish history.

This famine was exacerbated by the then prevailing economic-political orthodoxy des laissez-faire . During this period, about 1 million people died of starvation and about 2 million emigrated, about three-quarters of them to the United States , most of the others to Canada and Great Britain. The Irish blamed England for their misfortune; In 1848 the " Young Ireland " movement under the leadership of William Smith O'Brien and Charles Gavan Duffy tried to gain independence for Ireland from Great Britain. The poorly organized and poorly equipped uprising was quickly put down.

Occasional violent uprisings repeatedly drew the British government's attention to the Irish question. Ireland now pushed for Home Rule . In 1869 Gladstone abolished the status of the Anglican Church as an official church in Ireland. An 1870 law to strengthen the rights of the Irish tenants exploited by the English landlords had little practical effect. The Irish spokesman Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) increased the pressure on the government by calling for a boycott and paralyzing the normal course of parliament through persistent speeches. Gladstone granted tenants some co-ownership of the landowners' land in 1881, but was only able to partially alleviate social discontent. As a result, several English officials were murdered; the government responded with compulsory laws.

After the electoral reform of 1884, the newly formed Irish Parliamentary Party gained in importance, whereupon Liberals and Conservatives came to meet the Irish in order to win votes. While the Conservatives continued to redeem the land, the Liberals tried to enforce self-government. Gladstone's draft law from 1886 failed at the lower house, another from 1893 only at the upper house. With the unionists , a counter-movement was formed that rejected self-government, and with the Gaelic League, a national cultural movement. This delayed further developments on the Irish question.

Philosophical background

The large number of reforms up to 1875 suggests an almost revolutionary break with the past, which arises from a certain doctrine. Many political decisions of this time were either guided by laissez-faire (such as free trade) or, on the contrary, by collectivism (such as working time regulations). From around 1880 onwards, laissez-faire and individualism were seen more and more as utopian and unattainable.

The philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), co-founder of utilitarianism , developed his ethics based on the goal of "the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number". To implement this principle in practice, laissez-faire or collectivism could be used, depending on the situation. Bentham theorized more than any other thinker of government policy of his day. Several well-known intellectuals and politicians, including Chadwick, advocated his ideas. "Benthamism" is often associated with 19th century politics; To what extent he actually determined the reform efforts of the Victorian period is, however, controversial.

Foreign policy

The period from 1830 to 1865 was mainly shaped by Palmerston , first as foreign minister, later as prime minister. He pursued an opportunistic and independent policy in which he sought to preserve Britain's freedom of association and at the same time tried to prevent an imbalance between continental European nations. In order not to endanger trade, he preferred peaceful solutions to conflicts in Europe. Although Great Britain carried out over 200 military missions during the Victorian era, in contrast to the time before Palmerston, apart from the Crimean War, no wars with great powers.

After Palmerston's death, Europe took a lower position in politics than the non-European world. Gladstone pursued a cautious foreign policy during his first term (1868-1874).

In addition to securing raw materials and sales markets, the acquisition of colonies also had ideological reasons. The reorganization of “uncivilized” conditions, as well as proselytizing, were seen as a task. After Disraeli took office again in 1874, the "era of (new) imperialism " began. Although Great Britain already had a large colonial empire at that time, it was now in strong competition with other colonial powers. The sense of mission took on racist and jingoistic traits in politics as well as in the mass press , without considering self-government. Subsequent liberal governments also endeavored - increasingly defensive - to secure the British Empire. However, local politics were often not subject to a central strategy, but were largely determined by the respective governors. In the 1890s, the state completely took over the colonial acquisition policy, which was previously also supported by private companies.

Orient crisis

In the 1830s, several independence movements, including in Egypt, weakened the Ottoman Empire . In 1833 the son of the Egyptian khedive Muhammad Ali , Ibrahim , had conquered Syria and threatened Constantinople . Thereupon the Russian tsar formed an alliance with the Turkish sultan and sent troops. From the British point of view, this represented an attempt by the land power Russia to gain access to the sea. Ibrahim withdrew to Syria.

The Middle East problem became acute again in 1839 when the Sultan made his claims and attacked Ibrahim in Syria. France sided with Egypt, while Palmerston arranged for Austria, Russia and Prussia to intervene in favor of the Sultan ( Orient crisis ). Muhammad Ali then gave up Syria, which limited France's ambitions. In 1841, with the Dardanelles Treaty , Turkey undertook to close the Dardanelles to warships in peacetime. This also suppressed the influence of Russia, which had previously threatened British access from the Middle East to India.

Crimean War

Charge of the Light Brigade , painting by Richard Caton Woodville Jr.

In 1853, in the face of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, Russia saw another opportunity to secure access to the Dardanelles and the Balkans. As a pretext, the Tsar demanded that the Ottoman Sultan protect the Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire and give them a protectorate in the Holy Land . The sultan, supported by the British ambassador, rejected the Russian demands. The Russian occupation of the Danube principalities under Ottoman rule triggered the Crimean War .

Great Britain and France opposed Russia's expansionist efforts and sent first warships and later troops into the Black Sea. On June 3, 1854, Austria asked Russia to withdraw from the Danube principalities and occupied them after the Russian withdrawal. The western allies were disappointed with the voluntary retreat of the Russians and decided to attack the Russian fortress Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula . France continued to seek military success, and Prime Minister Aberdeen expected the war to gain the sympathy of the anti-Russian public. The British military suffered heavy losses in the face of inadequate supplies and poor hygiene that led to epidemics. War correspondents such as William Howard Russell also drew the public's attention to the poor organization of trench warfare . Florence Nightingale gained notoriety in this context by trying to improve conditions in the hospitals. The British light brigade attack on Russian gun emplacements during the Battle of Balaklava , which was triggered by a series of misunderstandings, is still considered a central event in English literature to this day. As the heroic death ride of Balaklava , it was transfigured into a myth.

With the Allied conquest of Sevastopol, after almost a year of siege, in September 1855, the war ended. The peace of Paris in 1856 provided for the guarantee of Turkish neutrality and the demilitarization of the Black Sea, but could not permanently solve the " Oriental question ", which is why the region remained unstable.

More Europe

In order to further reduce the influence of Russia and France, Palmerston opposed the French Emperor Napoleon III, who wanted to found independent Italian states, and supported the liberal groups that campaigned for the unification of Italy. Palmerston did not support the independence movements in Hungary because he wanted to keep Austria as an opponent of Russia. In 1863 Great Britain returned the Ionian Islands , which were under protectorate, to Greece. During the German-Danish War in 1864, Palmerston suffered a defeat when he failed to prevent the expansion of Prussia.

In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, Gladstone remained neutral and secured Belgian neutrality by treaty with the two warring powers. In order to prevent a further increase in power in the German Reich, Disraeli sided with France and Russia during the war-in-sight crisis .

In contrast to the liberal opposition, Disraeli turned against Russia during the Balkan crisis of 1876-77. The peace of San Stefano meant an enormous increase in power for victorious Russia and could jeopardize access to India. Britain then put pressure on it by sending fleets to the straits. The Berlin Congress of 1878, which established a new arrangement in the Balkans and restricted Russia's influence, was able to fend off a war. Great Britain received Cyprus and retained the ability to expand its empire. In 1887 Great Britain joined the Mediterranean Entente to defend itself against the ambitions of France and Russia. The Krüger dispatch of 1896 led to the distancing from Germany.


Since the Canada Act of 1791 Canada was divided into the English Upper Canada and the French Lower Canada . At the end of the 1830s, Upper Canada revolted against the administration set up by the motherland, while in Lower Canada tensions developed between the French Catholic majority and the English minority. London then repealed the existing constitution and sent Lord Durham to Canada as plenipotentiary. Durham advocated self-government. In 1841 his proposal was accepted by the cabinet and Lower Canada and Upper Canada merged into the Province of Canada . In 1867 the province of Canada became a federal state together with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia . In 1869 the Red River Rebellion broke out in Canada and in 1885 the Métis Northwest Rebellion .

Another America

In the Civil War of 1861-65, the British government was on the side of the southern states , but remained officially neutral, as Napoleon III. could only establish a Mexican protectorate if the southern states won. In the course of the Trent affair in 1861, Britain almost entered the war on the side of the Confederate .

In 1895, US President Cleveland announced that he would enforce old Venezuelan claims on neighboring British Guyana . This conflict strained relations with the United States. In 1899, Salisbury reached an agreement in its favor.

Central Asia and India

In India, Great Britain was able to pursue colonial policy largely undisturbed by other great powers. Securing British supremacy in India took a prominent position in the political discourse. Since 1784 the Crown exercised indirect rule over the country through the East India Company . The company had already largely lost its trade monopoly in the 1830s.

In Victoria's time, British governors such as Dalhousie tried to limit the power of the Indian princes and to enforce European conditions through building activities and changes in the administrative and educational system. Missionaries were also active. Although the resistance to these cultural interventions had never ceased, the Sepoy uprising in 1857 marked a turning point in India policy. The mutiny of Indian soldiers put a lasting strain on British morale and ended the most aggressive phase of influence on the subcontinent. In 1858 the East India Company was dissolved and India formally became a Crown Colony.

The historic conflict between Great Britain and Russia for supremacy in Central Asia , also known as The Great Game , led to three Anglo-Afghan wars . In order to defend the Indian borders and prevent Russia from expanding, Great Britain tried several times to gain control of neighboring Afghanistan. In 1839 the British Indian Army opened the First Anglo-Afghan War , in which they suffered a complete defeat in 1842. It was not until 1880 that the Afghans were defeated in the Second Anglo-Afghan War .


Palmerston's China policy pursued purely commercial interests, whereby ethical principles, unlike in Europe, no longer applied. The Chinese government opposed the illegal import of opium by the East India Company for years and had over a thousand tons of the drug destroyed in 1839. The British opened fire and launched the First Opium War , from which they soon emerged victorious. The terms of the Treaty of Nanking to China, signed in 1842, were extremely harsh, including the cession of Hong Kong and the opening of five ports to trade.

After the Taiping Uprising , Great Britain and France opened the Second Opium War in 1856 , with the backing of Russia and the United States and devastating large parts of the country. Despite some protests, Palmerston's actions received majority support in Great Britain. British and French units finally invaded Beijing in 1860 . China had to condone the establishment of embassies, the legalization of the opium trade, and Christian missions.

North africa

The control of Egypt was of great strategic importance because of the Suez Canal , which was completed in 1869 and shortened the sea route to Asia. In 1875 Disraeli bought all Suez Canal shares from the indebted Khedive and thus curtailed French influence in the country; But France was involved in the control of the state finances. After the Urabi uprising of nationalist groups under Ahmed Urabi Pasha , British troops occupied Egypt alone after the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in 1882 and formally made it part of the empire. With that began the New Imperialism; the colonial acquisition policy accelerated. However, British power in Egypt was limited as other states, including France, had privileges in the country.

After the Mahdi uprising in Sudan , the new British governor of Sudan, Gordon Pasha, tried in vain to prevent the Mahdi movement from spreading. On January 26, 1885, the Mahdists conquered Khartoum and Gordon Pasha was killed. The British expedition to save Gordons under General Wolseley reached the city on January 28, 1885, two days after it fell. Gladstone's reputation suffered from this setback. It was not until 1896 that a British-Egyptian expeditionary force under Kitchener was set on the march, which defeated the Mahdists on September 2, 1898 at the Battle of Omdurman . The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan then became a condominium of Great Britain and Egypt .

In 1898 the Faschoda crisis broke out in Sudan between Great Britain and France, which ended with the withdrawal of France and the Sudan Treaty , which established a new border.

South Africa

The Cape was finally a British colony in 1814, and in 1872 it received self-government. After the abolition of slavery in 1833, there was a conflict with the local Boers (farmers of Dutch and other origins), who were deprived of an important economic basis. Thousands of Boers then joined the Great Trek and opened up the hinterland. In 1843 the British annexed Natal . The powerful militaristic Zulu state in the neighborhood appeared to the British as a threat to their settlements. The Zulu War that took place in 1879 led to the Zulu ceasing to exist as an independent nation.

The independence of the Orange Free State and Transvaal was ultimately recognized. In the south of Africa there were frequent conflicts between the colonial powers, which were always short-lived until after 1870 gold and diamond discoveries led to waves of immigration. The powers ' geostrategic interests, such as Cecil Rhodes ' plans for a rail link to North Africa, also contributed to the escalation. In 1884 Great Britain accepted the German protection treaty in Lüderitzland , later German South West Africa , but intervened against efforts in South East Africa .

After the Boers in the Orange Free State and Transvaal had unsuccessfully demanded civil rights from the British Crown, they opened the Boer War in 1899 . To counter the Boers' guerrilla tactics, the British used scorched earth tactics and built concentration camps, the sometimes catastrophic conditions of which claimed more victims than on the battlefield. With the Treaty of Vereeniging in 1902, the two Boer republics became British.

Further Africa and Australia

1874 forced Garnet Wolseley the realm of Ashanti the Treaty of Fomena on where they gave up all their rights on the coast and the slave trade, formerly the main source of Ashanti, was declared illegal. Several former vassals of the Ashanti Empire in the south were incorporated into the British Gold Coast Colony .

The Congo Conference took place in 1884–85 , at which the division of Africa was regulated. Great Britain, which with Stanley and Livingstone had contributed a great deal to the discovery of the inner continent, had to accept losses.

In 1890 Salisbury exchanged Helgoland for a resignation of the German Empire in Zanzibar, Uganda , Kenya ( Witu ) and on the Upper Nile.

The Australian colonies were granted self-government in 1861; In 1901 they were united to a federal state.

Economy and technology

In the Victorian Age, the full effects of the Industrial Revolution were felt not only in the textile industry, but also in the mining and engineering industries, with the railroad providing the initial impetus. The resulting prosperity of the epoch suffered several setbacks at a high economic level. There were major phases of depression until about the middle of the century. This was followed by a decade-long boom, which also benefited from the prevailing free trade . In the last decades of the century there was an agricultural crisis. Despite this changeable development, Great Britain had already achieved a considerable technical lead over all other countries in Europe at the beginning of the epoch. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the rest of the states caught up, and with increasing competition from abroad, industrial growth in the British Isles also slowed.

Until 1850

By the start of the Victorian Age, Britain had already completed the groundbreaking beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, which the country led the way. After the first railway line for passenger traffic was completed in 1830, the expansion of the rail network continued, which stimulated the iron industry. This also increased the consumption of the most important energy source, coal, half of which was needed for iron smelting . The construction of viaducts, railway embankments and tunnels presented engineers with previously unknown problems and required pioneering work. The railway, which impressed at a previously unattainable speed, made it possible to deliver raw materials faster and cheaper to the factories and large-scale deliveries of agricultural products to customers. It also made it necessary to synchronize the time across the country and promoted the distribution of newspapers. Initial bureaucratic hurdles and reservations of the population in the construction of railway lines disappeared in the 1840s. In 1850 the railway network comprised almost 10,000 kilometers of route. One problem was different track gauges, which were not fully standardized until the 1890s. Railway companies created hundreds of thousands of new jobs (1840: 200,000); Cities with railroad tracks often prospered . In addition, the companies developed into profitable investment properties, so that the construction of the route was promoted by the inflowing capital.

Meanwhile, advances in mechanical engineering by engineers like Whitworth enabled the mass production of precisely standardized tools, machine parts, and other equipment needed in factories. Abroad the demand for coal and machines grew; by 1849 coal exports tripled. The mechanized textile industry and its important cotton sector continued to flourish and flooded the international market with its products. Paradoxically, British goods fell more sharply than imported raw materials because of their high production figures. It was only thanks to the income from shipping and insurance that the trade deficit could be bridged without any problems.

By the middle of the century, it was the effects of the Industrial Revolution, notably the railways, rather than increases in agricultural productivity, that provided sufficient food for the rapidly growing British population. Regardless, most British products continued to be made by various artisans in small workshops.

The expansion of the rail network promoted the establishment of new communication systems. The state post office founded in 1840, which carried letters at a cheap flat rate, was followed in 1846 by a general electrical telegraph company. However, the Post also contributed to the national deficit. Domestic policy, dominated by the renewed Prime Minister Robert Peel from 1841 to 1846, focused on the reorganization of the state budget: a low tariff policy stimulated trade, while an income tax increased state revenues and tied the issuance of paper money to full coverage by the gold reserves of the Bank of England has been.

As a result of the banking crisis of 1837, the capital of the railroad companies shrank, resulting in unemployment. Coupled with crop losses over the next two years, this resulted in an economic slump that lasted until 1843 and contributed to labor movements becoming violent. In 1847 there was another banking crisis and a brief phase of depression.

Since 1815, the grain laws have restricted grain imports through tariffs. Bourgeois industrialists who mistrusted government regulations and who promised themselves low labor costs from low living costs, formed the Anti-Corn Law League in 1839 , which opposed protectionism and demanded the repeal of the grain laws. After Parliament rejected the motion that same year, it launched a large-scale campaign to lower the price of bread for the benefit of the poor and expand the market for British goods. The workers, too, saw a prospect of improvement in this. This Manchester liberalism only had an indirect influence on the abolition of the grain laws in 1846 . It arose above all from Peel's own change of heart, with which he risked a split in his party. Fears that the country would now be flooded with foreign grain turned out to be unfounded, as the price of grain remained at a high level after the Crimean War. The abolition of the Navigation Act in 1849 was a further step towards free trade.


Interior view of the new " Crystal Palace " built for the World Exhibition of 1851

The boom, often called the “great Victorian boom”, lasted from the middle of the century to the 1870s and was accompanied by a general increase in the quality of life. Even minor economic crises in 1857 and 1866 did nothing to change that. Industry, especially the steel and cotton industries, pushed agriculture into second place. The growing population, but especially abroad, formed large sales markets. Foreign investment also increased, but seldom pursued aims to increase sales. The financial center of London as the most important banking location in the world supplied the industry with capital. Half of the investment went to the United States and continental Europe, the rest mainly to India and Central and South America. Foreign securities as well as mining and port construction companies were particularly popular. The first World's Fair in 1851, showcasing the latest machinery and works of art, glorified the leadership of the British Empire, which ruled half of the exhibition.

Treasury Secretary Gladstone lowered the tariffs on French imports in the course of the British-French trade treaty of 1860 and later lifted them entirely; free trade finally prevailed. He also limited taxes to a few lucrative consumer goods and lowered income tax, which gave the economy a further boost and created jobs.

Fundamental technical innovations came from two areas during this time. With the help of the wind refining process developed by Henry Bessemer in 1856 and improved in the 1860s, steel could for the first time be manufactured efficiently in mass production. In the 1870s, the rail network was converted to steel. In shipbuilding, steel steam boilers and triple expansion steam engines , which were first used on a British ship in 1874, enabled a much more efficient use of coal. These innovations, together with the newly opened Suez Canal, which could only be navigated by maneuverable steamships, marked the decline of sailing shipping.

Agriculture also continued to develop. As pipelines became much cheaper thanks to industrial production and the government provided subsidies, many farmers invested in better drainage . The high popularity of mineral fertilizers and guano also contributed to better soils. Only now did agricultural machinery, including steam-powered ones, become widespread. However, these innovations were not profitable under 120 hectares, the size of two thirds of all farms in 1851.

From 1875

The renewed Depression from 1873 to 1896 - with brief phases of industrial boom from 1880 to 1882 and from 1890 to 1892 - had various causes. It hit agriculture hardest. After the grain laws were abolished, only long transport routes protected British farmers from foreign competition. However, as the railroad network expanded in the United States and larger and faster steamers crossed the Atlantic, grain prices fell. In addition, the improved cooling methods of the 1880s favored meat imports. Many farmers were initially reluctant to diversify their production, especially since the successive harsh winters and wet summers from 1875 to 1882 appeared to be the reason for their difficulties. In addition, when the business was converted, tenants would not receive an advance payment for grain that had already been sown from their successor. Nevertheless, overall agricultural production increased during this period. Vegetable and dairy farmers were less affected by the crisis. One consequence was that those who could afford it found a much broader range of food available. In addition, the nobility came under economic pressure, as land ownership was their main source of income.

Great Britain also faced competition from newly industrialized countries, so growth in this area slowed. The United States and Germany in particular not only caught up on their backlog - in steel production, for example - but were also able to develop modern chemical and electrotechnical industries. Prices fell overall, affecting business people and investors in particular.

The main reason for the falling back of British industry was that because of sufficient manpower to cope with the tasks, industrialists saw no incentive in the development of new machines. An innovation would have required the complete restructuring of the production facilities and the retraining of the workers. In addition, there were no large groupings of companies in Great Britain that would have hired enough commercial travelers and enabled better coordination between producer and exporter. Another reason was possibly the deficit in technical education compared to other countries.


Population development

Population development of the kingdom (in millions, logarithmic scale). Gray: England and Wales, blue: Scotland, green: Ireland.

Britain's population doubled in the Victorian Age. The population grew from 24 million in 1831 to 41.5 million in 1901, in England from 13.9 to 32.5 million and in Scotland from 2.4 to 4.5 million. The population grew particularly rapidly in the first half of the century compared to the rest of Europe; the reasons for this are controversial. From 1871 the birth rate fell, especially in the middle and upper classes. At the same time, mortality also fell, but not enough to offset the declining birth rate. The cause may have been greater birth control . There is evidence that by 1890 contraception had also become widespread among the lower classes and in the countryside.

The rapid population growth is also remarkable given the number of victims of the Irish famine and continued emigration throughout the 19th century. Especially during the economic crisis and the Irish famine of the 1840s, many poor people hoped for a better life overseas, but the state also supported and subsidized emigration. The main destinations - besides the United States - were Canada, South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand. Added to this were the estimated 137,000 prisoners who were deported to Australia.

Lower class

Around two thirds of the population belonged to the lower social class. Half of them consisted of the poor, day laborers, cottagers and other people who lived on the edge or below the subsistence level. The other half consisted of agricultural, construction and industrial workers, domestic workers, seafarers and soldiers, whose standard of living depended heavily on the economy . In the first half of the century, riots and looting were often carried out by the lower classes.

The farm workers were the largest employment group in 1851 and represented about a quarter of all male adult workers in 1851. In many regions wages were very low and the working days long; there was often no permanent home. Food was scarce and depended on the region, the crops and the willingness of the landlords to donate excess food. Often workers were dependent on their allotments; Poaching was risky. With the implantation of factories in rural areas, farm workers increasingly switched to industry.

Ford Madox Brown : Work (1852-1865). This socially realistic picture shows various workers in the foreground; on the left in the background and on the right are members of the middle and upper classes.

The working conditions in the factories were also deplorable. Most entrepreneurs were short of capital, depended on short-term credit, and faced great competitive pressures. Therefore, acceptable profits appeared to be achievable only with the highest possible machine utilization and the lowest possible wages. The working day usually lasted ten to twelve hours without interruption, in textile factories up to 16 hours. Often not only men went to work, but also their wives and children. To support the family, five-year-olds were forcibly forced to do hard labor, resulting in serious health problems and early death. Conditions in coal mines were particularly bad. Many workers found relaxation in alcohol and in occasional brawls with the Irish, who increasingly immigrated after the great famine.

In order to deter poverty, the Poor Law of 1834 forbade state subsidies to those able to work; was built workhouses . However, the Depression that lasted into the 1840s created a situation for which the law was not designed. Many lost their jobs and became impoverished. Given the chilling workhouses, employers saw no need for wage increases. Whether the standard of living of workers rose or fell overall in the early Victorian era is controversial. The depression of the last decades of the century increased the risk of unemployment, but wages remained constant while the cost of living fell, so that the situation of wage workers tended to improve.

In the 1830s and 40s, several laws reorganized the working conditions of children and women. Further laws regulating working hours followed. Contrary to critical predictions, they did not lead to a drop in sales, as healthier and less tired workers increased productivity. Yet the work often remained dangerous. In 1875 alone, 800 railway workers died in accidents; around 1,000 miners had accidents every year.

The term “ labor aristocracy ” refers to the 10% of industrial workers and craftsmen who have had many years of training, for example mechanical engineers. Unlike unskilled workers who lived with the entire family in a single room or basement, some of the better-paid skilled workers could afford a small row house in the slums with two or three rooms. Since the 1840s they strived for a bourgeois, respectable way of life, which was expressed, for example, in their own newspapers and cooperatives.

Labor movement

The successive reforms of the electoral law kept hopes for changes in the working class alive. Despite the widespread poverty and exploitation and the work of Marx and Engels , socialism therefore had little influence on the labor movement ; in particular, a workers' party was formed late.

Partly as a reaction to the disappointing electoral reform of 1832, and partly as a result of civil rights aspirations that emerged as early as the 18th century, the extensive Chartist movement emerged , which, among other things, called for universal suffrage in the People's Charter written by some radicals and members of the House of Commons in 1838 . Numerous regional unions were among the associations belonging to the movement. The House of Commons refused to debate the statutes, which led to riots. Further attempts by the Chartists failed because they could not agree on how to proceed and were unable to cope with the repression of the state. After a final flare-up in 1848, the Chartist movement died down in the 1850s.

After the failure of the Chartists, the trade unions, which mainly advocated shorter working hours, better working conditions and higher wages, gained more support. For a long time, however, they only acted at the local level and only represented the “labor aristocracy”. Strikes were only viewed as a last resort, especially since when unemployed the entrepreneurs could simply exchange workers and even criminalize them in the absence of legal recognition of the trade unions. The trade unions tried to win the Liberal candidate for their interests through an alliance with the Liberals ( Liberal Labor Movement ) and in 1868 they formed the umbrella organization Trades Union Congress . In 1874 workers were elected to the lower house for the first time. Socialist movements were founded which, apart from the Fabian Society founded by intellectuals in 1884 , were mostly insignificant.

The living conditions of the farm workers made union associations difficult. In 1873 Joseph Arch founded a union that gave the impetus for further associations. The agricultural crisis, with which the number of farm workers decreased, thwarted further efforts.

The Independent Labor Party was founded in 1883 as one of the first workers' parties . From around 1880 there were also major, violent strikes. In the wake of the London dock workers' strike of 1889, a large number of unskilled workers joined together in what were now more radical unions; this development is called New Unionism . Instead of the "Lib-Labs", the aim was to have their own workers as members of parliament. In 1900 the Labor Representation Committee was founded , which later became part of the Labor Party .

Middle class

The middle class, classified between the lower class and the nobility, ranged from large industrialists to small shopkeepers; the transition to the labor aristocracy was fluid. The lower middle class included shopkeepers, freelancers and part of the clergy . The upper middle class strived for a lifestyle based on the aristocratic model and sent their children to private schools to form them into " gentlemen ". About half of the middle class was non-conformist.

In 1855 and 1862 the government passed laws encouraging the formation of public limited companies (Ltd.). As a result, more and more company assets were passed on to shareholders. The great boom produced new specialized professions such as engineers and architects who founded their own companies and institutes. The service sector gained in importance and enabled some to rise to the upper middle class. Proof of the increasing affluence of the middle class is the increasing number of maids, who in 1851 represented the second largest occupational field.

As urbanization increased, the middle classes moved from the city centers to the suburbs, creating public transport for commuters and promoting segregation between the poor and the wealthy. The first underground line opened in London in 1863 .


A distinction is made between the landed aristocracy and the approximately 200 families of the high aristocracy who had the highest income and magnificent country estates. The nobility represented in the House of Lords retained their position for a long time. The last decades of the 19th century, especially the third reform of the electoral law and the administrative reform of 1888, reduced the political influence of the landed gentry, who increasingly sought to consolidate their position by investing in industry. Conversely, some successful entrepreneurs achieved titles of nobility and were accepted into the House of Lords.

Church politics

David Octavius ​​Hill :
Inaugural Meeting of the Scottish Free Church , 1843

Outside the Anglican Church, the Methodists and their secession were the largest denomination in England. The Scottish Church was Presbyterian ; In 1843 the Free Church of Scotland was founded .

The 1851 census was shocking, according to which less than half of the English population attended church on Sundays. As a result, new efforts arose to proselytize the religiously uneducated lower class. For this purpose, the Methodist preacher William Booth founded the later so-called Salvation Army in 1865 . The Anglican Church intensified its educational activities but could not keep up with the rapid growth of cities. Both in the state and in the free churches, under Frederick Maurice and Charles Kingsley , for example , Christian-socialist groups were formed that tried to combine Christian values ​​with the ideal of an equal society and made contact with the Chartists and trade unions. There was tension within the Methodists in the 1830s and 40s because of Jabez Bunting's leadership, which was felt to be too high-handed, and the conservative stance on social issues.

The Oxford Movement reached its explosive climax with John Henry Newman's Tract 90 of 1841, who saw the Anglican Confession not in contradiction to the central ideas of the Catholic faith. Another group within the movement around Edward Bouverie Pusey had a significant influence on the increasing ritualization of worship, which was expressed, for example, in the introduction of church robes.

New scientific discoveries worried the church. Geologists determined that the earth was not in 4004 BC. . BC was created; the theory of evolution presented by Charles Darwin in 1859 seemed to doubt the account of creation and the special position of man. The religiosity of the theologically naive population remained largely unaffected by the controversy.

Church questions often dominated the debates of the House of Commons. Peel ordered a commission to deliver a report on the state of the state church. As a result, three important laws were passed in 1836-40 that redefined the boundaries of the dioceses , provided for a church committee for financial management, limited the number of church offices held at the same time, and made other financial adjustments. A civil registry was set up so that nonconformists no longer had to marry in Anglican churches. Edward Mialls Liberation Society formed an alliance with the Liberals and achieved that in 1868 the universal church tax ( Church Rate ) became optional.


The heartfelt moral responsibility that sprang from Wesleyanism and evangelical aspirations within religious communities was the most enduring feature of the Victorian Age. Evangelicals spread their faith as part of the revival through missions at home and abroad, tracts, and public sermons. They also influenced politics, which was reflected, for example, in the law to close all inns of 1854 (repealed a year later after uprisings). Catholicism increased in the course of the 19th century, especially in the lower classes, due to strong Catholic immigration, which, however, in 1850 after the re-admission of Catholic bishops led to a downright, sometimes violent Catholic hysteria in the Protestant majority population.

Darwin at the age of 51. It was around this age that he published his theory of evolution.

Members of the middle class in particular tried to distance themselves from the uncivilized lower class and the debauchery of the nobility by reading the Bible frequently, keeping Sunday holy and praying together in the family, which was still unusual in the 18th century. Sermon books were bestsellers. Gambling and alcohol, among other things, were considered shameful. Deviations from moral concepts, such as divorces, often led to public scandal and social isolation. The intrinsic sinfulness of life was attempted to be balanced with frugality, hard work, decency, and "good deeds" - either to be more leniently judged at the Last Judgment or because social advancement appeared to be an indication of divine reward. In addition, the righteousness of the crown served as a model. There are indications that the piety of the masses hardly declined towards the end of the century, although family prayer and going to church became rarer and church professions lost their popularity.

The knowledge of science posed a challenge to religion, especially the prevailing doctrines of Charles Darwin .

Question of women

The author of popular women's counselors Sarah Stickney Ellis formulated the bourgeois ideal of the wife in 1839 as a highly moral and spiritually pure being who exercises a secret but significant influence on her husband who lives in a "separate sphere". Like many other authors, she saw the woman's goal in life to be married, to bear children and to raise them self-sacrificingly. Since work outside of the household was considered reprehensible, middle-class women mostly had no choice but to pursue this path. In 1851 only 7% of all middle class women were employed. By law, married women were almost entirely subject to their husbands, in particular they had no right to property.

Richard Redgrave, 1844: The Governess

Working as governess was one of the few opportunities for women of the educated middle class to exercise a profession that was appropriate to their class. It was seized almost exclusively by women who at some point in their biography did not have a father, husband or brother to support themselves and who therefore had to or wanted to fend for themselves. The economic problems of wealthy women belonging to the upper bourgeoisie were particularly pronounced in Great Britain. After 1830, the number of women who wanted or had to work as governesses far exceeded the available positions. On the one hand, this oversupply was the result of a series of economic crises in which the wealth of many families dwindled. On the other hand, it was also due to an imbalance between men and women who were able and willing to marry. So many women were forced to earn their livelihood in this way that one spoke of "governess misery". This was understood to mean material hardship, the hurt of self-esteem due to the low reputation of this profession, disregard of their individual needs and the struggle for a professional job in a job market that offered women only very limited opportunities compared to men. In the British census of 1851, 25,000 women identified themselves as governesses. That corresponds to two percent of all unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 40. This comparatively high number suggests that almost every middle-class woman without any other income had to take up this profession.

The oversupply of governesses had a significant impact on the salaries for which women were forced to take jobs. At a time when an annual income of £ 300 was typical for the middle class, a few governesses received £ 80 a year. However, according to an investigation, the earnings of most governesses were well below that. Charlotte Brontë worked for an annual salary of £ 20 in 1841, of which £ 4 was deducted for washing her laundry. Harriet Martineau reported in 1860 about several families she knew who paid her governess between eight and twelve pounds a year. While the employment situation of lower-class women, 750,000 of whom were servants, was not the subject of public discussion at the time, the problems of this relatively small group aroused the particular interest and compassion of the bourgeois public.

Caroline Norton painted by George Hayter in 1832

From the 1830s onwards there were efforts to oppose the illegality of married women. Caroline Norton and Josephine Rochester played a decisive role in the enforcement of custody in 1839. Together with Barbara Bodichon , they campaigned with their writings to strengthen women's rights in the event of divorce, which culminated in a corresponding law in 1857 (1873 and 1878 expanded). The law of 1870 that gave women certain property after marriage was also created through the intervention of an association of women’s rights activists. It was not until 1882 that women acquired the right to both pre- and post-marriage property after a failure of an 1857 bill. In 1869 women regained the restricted right to vote in municipal elections that they had until 1835. Another 1870 bill on universal women's suffrage , for which John Stuart Mill had argued using utilitarian principles a year earlier, was rejected by Gladstone. A militant women's rights movement emerged towards the end of the century under Emmeline Pankhurst .

There were also efforts to improve women's education. Barbara Bodichon and Emily Davies founded Britain's first dormitory women's college in 1869, later Girton College . The University of London was the first to accept women on an equal footing with male students, and from 1878 made it possible for them to obtain degrees. The educational reform of 1870 opened up new career opportunities for women in the school system. Florence Nightingale contributed to the emancipation of women in nursing. Some doctors, such as Elizabeth Blackwell , acquired their qualifications abroad and had to prevail against the opposition of their male colleagues. Other professions opened up to women, particularly in telecommunications, the post office and the railroad, which towards the end of the century began to replace the maid and factory worker as common occupations for lower-class women. Nannies were still in demand as wealthier women increasingly wanted to distance themselves from a purely domestic life.

Sexual ethics

As an example of Victorian double standards, excessive prostitution is often cited, which contradicts the officially vaunted self-control and marital loyalty. Indeed, many middle-class men tended to postpone marriage until some financial security had been established and to seek refuge with prostitutes - the total number of whom is difficult to determine. Conversely, prostitution appeared to many women, mainly from the lower classes, as an opportunity to increase their income. After numerous cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the military, the Contagious Diseases Acts were passed in the 1860s, which ordered compulsory medical examinations for suspected prostitutes, but not for soldiers. This seemed legitimate as " fallen girls " were considered already depraved. Organized resistance formed under Josephine Butler , which politicized the issue in public and ultimately led to the repeal of the laws in 1886. In 1885 a law was passed that raised the age of consent, imposed higher penalties for brothel owners, and criminalized homosexual acts.

The modern concept of human sexuality itself emerged in the 19th century and was taken up by science, forensics, and the judiciary; in the 1890s, Havelock Ellis and others made important contributions to sex research. Sexuality was categorized, for example the term “ homosexual ” was created. Sex was seen as a primitive animal behavior that had to be controlled and used sparingly, as otherwise the career of the individual or even the entire economy could suffer. This view can be traced back to evangelicalism, which in its extreme form viewed all pleasure as immoral. Thanks to the opening up of new sources of text relating to private life in archives, however, the sex life of Victorians is now more differentiated than the usual opinion suggests.

Art and everyday culture


The last great famine at the beginning of the Victorian Age was that in Ireland between 1845 and 1852, caused by the novel potato rot . It led to crop failures across Europe, but Ireland was hit hardest because a large part of the population was almost entirely potato-fed. A million Irish people died as a result of this famine. The Scottish population was also particularly dependent on the potato harvest. Here, however, there were comparatively few starvation deaths, but 1.7 million Scots emigrated as a result.

However, regardless of this serious catastrophe, malnutrition and deficiency were part of the everyday experience of most of the Victorian population. In the first half of the 19th century, the working class in the north of England lived mainly on potatoes, bread and porridge ; Meat was very rarely on the table and when it did, it was mostly in the form of a little bacon. Farm workers in the south of England lived almost exclusively on bread. The beer that was common in the past, which enriched this diet somewhat, was increasingly being replaced by the more affordable tea. The food situation improved somewhat in the second half of the 19th century. In the families of factory workers in Lancashire , oat groats, bacon, some butter, syrup, bread, tea and coffee were part of the daily diet. The fact that industrial workers could feed themselves marginally better than agricultural workers contributed significantly to the onset of urban exodus . Towards the end of the 19th century, working-class families could also allow themselves some meat once a week and the principle was that households with at least one male earner no longer had to go hungry. However, unemployment, health problems or the death of the breadwinner could change this very quickly. But a study of children in London's poorest district, Bethnal Green , showed that even in 1892 this was still not the case for all segments of the population. For 80 percent of the children examined, it was found that 17 out of 21 meals consisted only of bread.

Malnutrition and a lack of vitamins were clearly noticeable. Compared to the average height of a man in London today, the Londoners, whose height was measured between 1869 and 1872 after an arrest, were around nine centimeters shorter. In women, the difference in size is a little more than 6 centimeters. Victorian contemporaries noticed that there was a class-specific difference in size. For example, some newspaper articles from the period noted that 12-year-old boys attending posh Eton College were on average four inches taller than 12-year-olds from London's working-class East End . Historian Ruth Goodman comments that it takes a lot of hunger to create such a difference in size.

Scurvy was a widespread consequence of persistent malnutrition, and in industrial cities more than a third of the population showed signs of the deficiency disease rickets in 1871 . Not only was fruit expensive, it was not seen as a necessary part of food. Families also prefer to spend their little household money on high-carbohydrate and thus filling foods than on the comparatively expensive vegetables. Cod liver oil became a popular dietary supplement in the last decade of the 19th century when a more casual experiment showed its effectiveness against rickets.


The long novels by Charles Dickens , George Eliot , William Makepeace Thackeray , Anthony Trollope , Elizabeth Gaskell or the Brontë siblings can be assigned to realism , which sought to portray the social conditions of industrial or provincial life in a realistic manner. However, this was always done against the background of the established moral code, even if some writers like Eliot did not allow religious viewpoints to flow into it.

The late Victorian prose expanded and ranged from the rather simple stories Robert Louis Stevenson and H. Rider Haggard to the unconventional works of Oscar Wilde . A naturalistic movement also emerged in the 1870s . The novels by Thomas Hardy deal with the life of the simple country folk struggling against their fate, a subject that had hardly been considered until then. The influence of French naturalism can also be seen in the works of George Moore , George Robert Gissing and Joseph Conrad , who distanced themselves from earlier belief in progress and optimism.

The most famous poets of the time were the poet laureate Alfred Tennyson, as well as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Matthew Arnold , who wrote long poems in narrative form or moral reflections. More and more authors dealt mainly or exclusively with children's and youth literature and gave it a boost, including various authors of adventure stories or the main exponents of nonsense literature, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear . It was not until the end of the century that theatrical art received increasing appreciation through the works of Oscar Wilde , George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats .

The non-fiction was usually strictly separated from the fiction, apart from the historiography with its best-known representatives Thomas Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle . Famous art critics were John Ruskin and Matthew Arnold , who often judged on moral and religious principles and turned against industrialism. In philosophy, John Stuart Mill developed Benthamism further without appealing to Christian values; Herbert Spencer represented evolutionist theses. The social researchers Charles Booth and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree examined the living conditions of the poor underclass at the turn of the century. A famous series of articles by journalist Henry Mayhew on the subject, published in the 1840s, was still heavily influenced by sentimental social criticism.

A best-seller of the Victorian era was the Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton , published in 1861 and was sold within a few years, two million times. The book, which its author made an English icon, was aimed at the rising middle class and tried to convey knowledge about cooking and housekeeping in a detailed way in an almost encyclopedic form. The work of over a thousand pages contained more than 2000 pieces of advice and recipes for the modern housewife, from using industrially produced foods to warning about the effects of poor living conditions on growing up children.


Great Britain brought little new developments in music until the late 19th century. Probably the best-known English-speaking opera composer of the time was the Irish Michael William Balfe .

In the last decades of the century, however, new musical educational institutions such as the Guildhall School of Music (1880) were founded. Permanent orchestras have been established in some major cities. Henry Wood brought the music closer to a larger audience with his promenade concerts . Gilbert and Sullivan wrote numerous operas from 1875 to 1895 that satirically commented on current political and social affairs. Composers such as Arthur Sullivan , Hubert Parry or Charles Villiers Stanford did not gain much fame outside of Great Britain. Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations (1899) and the oratorio The Dream of Gerontius (1900) ultimately carried the name of an English composer to the rest of Europe.

Visual arts

John William Waterhouse : The Lady of Shalott (1888), based on the poem of the same name by Tennyson. Waterhouse was influenced by both the Pre-Raphaelites and neoclassicism.
Typical old town mansion in Louisville , USA

In 1848 a group of painters formed the Pre-Raphaelites . They sought to break away from the formalized classicism of the Royal Academy of Arts in favor of a natural, expressive and detailed style based on the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti , William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais were among the most admired painters in Great Britain from the 1860s onwards; later they were joined by Edward Burne-Jones . In the 1880s and 90s, the movement exerted a far-reaching influence. Most famous neoclassical painters included Frederic Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema , who mainly depicted biblical or ancient scenes. French impressionism was mostly ridiculed, although from the 1880s a group from Glasgow and the New English Art Club dealt with it. Victorian painting was mostly despised or ignored with the advent of classical modernism and only regained popularity from the 1970s.

Especially in the decades after 1880, book and magazine illustrations experienced a heyday thanks to great demand and new, efficient printing processes, especially the autotype . Examples of well-known illustrators are Richard Doyle , Arthur Rackham, and John Tenniel .

The Victorian architecture was influenced by various styles, including neoclassicism and emerging with the Gothic Revival movement Gothic Revival . The architectural style also characterizes large parts of the east coast of the USA, the city of Louisville has the largest inventory of Victorian mansions outside of England .


Sunday newspapers reached a high circulation as early as 1850. After the stamp duty was abolished, the Daily Telegraph filled the gap between the Times and the sensational press. From around the 1880s both newspapers also reached the lower middle class; the age of the great newspaper empires began. One of the hallmarks of the new press was that it refrained from teaching language. The Evening News was founded in 1881 and the Star in 1888 , with a strong focus on sporting events. The Tit-Bits and Answers newspapers, founded in 1881 and 1888 respectively, contained a hodgepodge of short, entertaining reports.

Alfred Harmsworth played an important role in the development of the mass press into a medium that met the readership's need for emotion. He shortened articles to the essentials, giving a lot of space to gossip and "human point of view". He also kept the very patriotic middle class interested by portraying British superiority. In 1896 he founded the aggressively imperialist Daily Mail . The crown anniversaries in 1887 and 1897 marked the peak of national self-confidence, which was somewhat dampened by the Boer War.


At the beginning of the Victorian Age, most of the population worked an average of about 12 hours. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that this high number of working hours slowly began to decline. Around 1870, work shifts of 10 hours were common, on Saturdays only half the day was worked. Above all, it was the shorter working hours and the advances in transport and communication that led to the mass phenomenon of sport.

The Ascot Gold Cup 1834, painted by James Pollard (1792–1867)

Horse racing was the sport that drew the greatest crowds at the beginning of the Victorian Age. Racing events near major cities that drew more than ten thousand spectators were not considered uncommon. Occasionally more than 60,000 spectators came to events such as the Grand National and the horse race in Ascot . Before it became customary in the late 1870s to completely fence off the racetracks, entry was free for the general public. Numerous booths lined the circuit, which added to the attractiveness of attending such a racing event. Since alcohol was also sold at the stalls, horse races were also known for the numerous fights that occurred on such racing days. There were bleachers and demarcated areas for the wealthier classes. What all shifts had in common was the willingness to bet on the outcome of the race . The Chester Cup in 1855 wagered over £ 1 million.

Charley Mitchell, one of the better known British boxing fighters

Boxing has been a popular sport since the mid-18th century. Bare knuckle fights often took place in the country in front of pubs, in barns or on the community lawn. When parts of the rural population moved to the cities as a result of the onset of industrialization, they took this sport with them. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the rural tradition of boxing died out, although the sport remained popular in the cities. While the middle class was not very open to this sport, which is traditionally anchored in the working class and rural population, it did find supporters in aristocratic circles. After all, it was also a member of the high nobility, namely John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry , who, together with the British athlete John Graham Chambers , had proposed the boxing rules that are still valid today in 1867, which included binding boxing gloves. They were first used in the 1880s at the World Heavyweight Championship .

The middle class began to love a gentler sport as the Victorian Age progressed: by 1860, cricket was the most popular British sport. There were teams in the working class as well as the lower class spectators, but typical for rural teams it was mostly pastors and gentry farmers who led the teams while shopkeepers and office workers in the cities played the sport. Until the second half of the 19th century, cricket was more of a game to be played in than one to be watched. It wasn't until the 1860s that cricket began to attract large crowds and WG Grace developed into one of the national sports heroes.

In the 1860s, rugby and soccer became serious club sports. How quickly this sport became popular can be seen in the number of Birmingham football clubs. In 1870 football was still largely unknown in Birmingham, but in 1880 there were more than 800 football clubs in Birmingham. The Football Association , founded in 1863, established the current rules of the game around 1870. The first cup game took place in 1872 and the first game in the league system in 1888. Similar to cricket before it, football quickly developed into a very popular spectator sport. While only 2,000 people watched the first cup game in 1872, there were already 17,000 spectators at the cup final in 1888 and 110,000 in 1895. Golf , which had existed for a long time , also took off significantly.

British archer Alice Legh about 1894

The opportunity to exercise was largely limited to the male part of the population. Schoolchildren were encouraged to do so very early on and there was an increasing emphasis on team sports in UK boys' schools. Girls, on the other hand, were advised against active exercise. Victorian medical professionals feared that excessive physical activity would damage the developing bodies of girls and young women so much that they could no longer have children. Even the daily gymnastic exercises, to which men increasingly devoted themselves, were considered too dangerous for women. For the female population, walks were considered acceptable, but care had to be taken not to overheat the body, as well as calisthenics , in which only the arms and shoulders were moved while the upper body was otherwise held still. Archery and croquet were two other sports open to women from the wealthier classes. Both sports made it possible to wear clothing that was felt to be fashionable in contemporary ideas. Nevertheless, it was predominantly unmarried women who practiced these two sports. For most married women, engaging in exercise was incompatible with the image of appropriate behavior. Even so, in archery in the mid-19th century, it was more women than men who practiced the sport, and it was especially women of the upper classes who followed it. The equipment necessary to practice the sport cost between £ 2 and £ 5, significantly more than was available to most middle-class women. Contemporary reports make it clear that the archer was expected to dress appropriately. Occasionally they devoted more lines to the clothing of the athletes than to the actual results. Croquet, on the other hand, was less exclusive than archery and required nothing more than a mowed lawn. The invention of the lawnmower made it possible for middle-class houses to be surrounded by such mowed lawns. Croquet was played by both sexes, but it was particularly interesting for women because neither the corset nor the crinoline prevented them from participating.

In the late Victorian era, newly emerging sports, lawn tennis , which developed from the mid-1870s, and cycling were noteworthy in that they were practiced by both men and women. The bicycle, with which one could cover longer distances, became an extremely popular means of transport; Cars could only be bought by the wealthy.

City life

In addition to the pub, the variety show , the reputation of which improved somewhat over time, established itself as an entertainment option for the lower classes in particular . Some characters in the variety show, such as the comedian Dan Leno , became national figures. American influence was to come later; the Cakewalk , already known in Great Britain at the turn of the century, foreshadowed jazz and ragtime.

The more competent city administration and the increasing concentration of the rail network meant that London developed into an artistic and intellectual metropolis. Restaurants and cafes were added to the cheap pubs. At the turn of the century, silent films could be viewed in the cinema. There was upscale entertainment at the popular Empire Theater and Café Royal on Regent Street. After long resistance, the museums were opened to the general public for the first time on Sunday afternoons in 1896. There were more and more public libraries making secular literature more accessible.

Later perception

Many contemporaries saw what they called the Victorian Age as an era of wealth and security. In the 20th century this attitude turned negative. Samuel Butler ( The Way of All Flesh ) and Lytton Strachey ( Eminent Victorians , 1918), for example, practiced sarcasm on Victorian hypocrisy and the mere pursuit of property and prosperity. Later, however, more nostalgic points of view emerged. Occasionally the era was referred to as the "good old days". The so-called Lolita fashion is based on the fashion of that time. Likewise the steampunk fashion .

See also


  • George K. Clark: The Making of Victorian England . Routledge, London 1994, ISBN 0-415-06591-7 .
  • Ruth Goodman: How to be a Victorian. Penguin, London 2013, ISBN 978-0-241-95834-6 .
  • Martin Hewitt (Ed.): The Victorian World. Routledge, Abingdon 2012, ISBN 978-0-415-49187-7 .
  • Kurt Kluxen : History of England. From the beginning to the present (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 374). 5th enlarged edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-520-37405-6 .
  • Stephen J. Lee: Aspects of British political history, 1815-1914 . Routledge, London 2000, ISBN 0-415-09007-5 .
  • Detlev Mares: In search of 'true' liberalism. Democratic Movement and Liberal Politics in Victorian England . Philo, Berlin 2002.
  • Michael Maurer: A Little History of England . Reclam, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-15-009616-2 .
  • Gottfried Niedhart : History of England in the 19th and 20th centuries . 3. Edition. Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-32305-7 .
  • Lewis C. Seaman: Victorian England. Aspects of English and imperial history 1837–1901 . Routledge, London 1995, ISBN 0-415-04576-2 .
  • Herbert F. Tucker (Ed.): A companion to victorian literature and culture . Blackwell, Malden, Mass. 2004, ISBN 0-631-20463-6 .
  • AN Wilson: The Victorians . Arrow Books, London 2003. ISBN 0-09-945186-7 .
  • Ben Wilson: The Making of Victorian Values: Decency and Dissent in Britain: 1789-1837. Penguin, London 2007. ISBN 978-1-59420-116-5 .
  • Anthony Wood: Nineteenth Century Britain 1815–1914 . Longman, Harlow (Essex) 1995, ISBN 0-582-35310-6 .

Web links

Commons : Victorian Age  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Victorian  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Wood, p. 121
  2. BBC History: Jim Donelly; The Irish Famine
  3. Edward J. O'Boyle: CLASSICAL ECONOMICS AND THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE: A STUDY IN LIMITS Forum for Social Economics, Vol 35, No. 2, of 2006.. (PDF, 114 kB) .
  4. BBC History: Jim Donelly; The Irish Famine
  5. Maurer, p. 365
  6. Wood, pp. 125-127
  7. Niedhart, p. 103
  8. Hans-Ulrich Wehler : Bismarck and Imperialism . 4th edition, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-423-04187-0 , p. 263 ff.
  9. Wood, p. 179
  10. ^ Seaman, p. 419
  11. Maurer, p. 413
  12. Niedhart, p. 44
  13. Wood, p. 102
  14. Wood, pp. 104-105
  15. Wood, p. 185
  16. ^ Seaman, p. 6
  17. Tucker, p. 30
  18. Hardach-Pinke: Die Gouvernante: Geschichte eines Frauenberufs , p. 15.
  19. ^ A b Ruth Brandon: Other People's Daughters - The Life and Times of the Governess , p. 1.
  20. ^ A b Ruth Brandon: Other People's Daughters - The Life and Times of the Governess , p. 19.
  21. Lecaros: The Victorian Governess Novel , 2001, p. 20.
  22. Hardach-Pinke: Die Gouvernante: Geschichte eines Frauenberufs , p. 16.
  23. Tucker, pp. 125-137
  24. ^ Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 164.
  25. ^ Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 165.
  26. ^ Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 166.
  27. Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 167.
  28. Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 168.
  29. Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 169.
  30. ^ Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 170.
  31. ^ A b Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 171. In the original Goodman writes: It takes a lot of hunger to do that to people.
  32. ^ Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 172.
  33. ^ Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 315
  34. a b c d Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 317.
  35. Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 318.
  36. Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 321.
  37. Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 322.
  38. Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 325.
  39. Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 328.
  40. ^ A b Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 329.
  41. ^ A b Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 149.
  42. ^ Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 338.
  43. ^ A b Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 339.
  44. ^ Goodman: How to be a Victorian . P. 341.
  45. ^ Wood, p. 188